Pavement versus produce: Koa Ridge development plans run into food insecurity, traffic concerns

Travis Quezon

HONOLULU—The concept of produce versus pavement highlighted last week’s Land Use Commission (LUC) hearing as issues of food sustainability, traffic, and unemployment, compounded by a struggling economy, were linked to the proposed Koa Ridge development in Central Oahu. Members of the Hawaii Farmers Union and other Hawaii residents testified against the plans put forward to the commission by Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii.

“Every problem we’re faced with—homelessness, traffic, poor health, unemployment, food insecurity, contributing to global warming, water shortage—are all a part of a system that isn’t working,” said Hawaii Farmers Union vice president Lydi Morgan. “We really need [the LUC] to step up and do what’s right for the state.”

Testifiers against Koa Ridge said Castle & Cooke’s proposal to develop more than 760 acres of prime A and B agricultural land into residential and commercial land is dangerous development that threatens Hawaii’s ability to feed itself, sustain future generations, and adapt to potential import disruptions.

Hawaii imports 85 percent of its food and 80 percent of all goods sold in the islands come via shipping companies like Matson.

Testifiers also said the Koa Ridge development harms Hawaii’s efforts to become more energy independent by furthering urban sprawl and draining water resources.

At a previous meeting in March, however, construction workers testified in favor of the Koa Ridge development and stressed that it would create job opportunities.

Morgan addressed those employment concerns by saying that there are already thousands of green homes being built in Ewa that are not on prime agricultural land. “Green jobs are the way of the future,” Morgan said. “This project, if approved, wouldn’t happen for years anyway. Ewa isn’t the most prime ag land. [Koa Ridge] is.”

“We really need [the LUC] to step up and do what’s right for the state.”

As an alternative to residential and commercial development, the Hawaii Farmers Union would like to see more training for new farmers and the protection of agricultural lands for plans already in the works to promote food sustainability. The Hawaii Farmers Union, the Sierra Club, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism, and other organizations are working to combat Hawaii’s food insecurity.

“The big picture for Hawaii goes against Koa Ridge,” Morgan said.

Neighborhood Board members at last week’s LUC hearing also pressed Pete Pasqua, a traffic engineering expert who headed Koa Ridge’s Traffic Impact Analysis Report, to answer why there was no analysis on the overall commute time from Koa Ridge to Honolulu nor consideration of Honolulu’s mass transit plans.

Board members cited the 2009 INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Annual Report, which said Hawaii’s traffic congestion was the second highest behind Los Angeles.

Pasqua said he focused on only a section of highway in Central Oahu and not the entire commute to Honolulu “because of the time frame of the project.” Pasqua also confirmed that Koa Ridge was not within walking or biking distance to any planned mass transit stations.

As issues of food insecurity, traffic, and other concerns continue to be raised, it will be up to the LUC to determine what’s best for the state.

The LUC approved the Koa Ridge project in 2002, but a legal challenge has thus far prevented the project from moving forward. A State Supreme Court ruling later reversed the LUC’s decision to reclassify hundreds of acres of agricultural land for Castle & Cooke’s massive residential development due to the lack of an environmental impact statement, which has since prepared.

In 1961, the Hawaii State Legislature determined that a lack of adequate controls had caused the development of Hawaii’s limited and valuable land for short-term gain for the few while resulting in long-term loss for the State as a whole. Development of scattered subdivisions, creating problems of expensive yet reduced public services, and the conversion of prime agricultural land to residential use, were key reasons for establishing the state-wide zoning system, according to the LUC website. To administer this state-wide zoning law, the Legislature established the LUC to be responsible for preserving and protecting Hawaii’s lands and encouraging those uses to which lands are best suited.

The LUC is composed of nine members, who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. One member is appointed from each of the four counties. Five members are appointed at-large. Commissioners are non-paid volunteers who represent a cross-section of the community.